British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday vowed to contest a vote of confidence in her leadership, warning that her removal would delay or possibly postpone the UK’s exit from the EU.
In a direct appeal to fellow Conservative lawmakers, who were set to decide her future last night, she said a new prime minister would have to scrap or extend Article 50, the mechanism taking the UK out of the EU on 29 March, “delaying or even stopping Brexit.”
She also warned that her removal would hand the initiative to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Her comments followed yesterday morning’s announcement that the required 48 letters calling for a leadership contest were delivered to Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers.
A ballot was due to be held between 6pm and 8pm last night, and a result was expected to be declared by 10pm.
Brady told reporters that the threshold for confidence letters had clearly been exceeded during the course of the previous day, but described the situation as “fluid” and gave a strong hint that confidence letters had been withdrawn as well as submitted.
He said he informed the prime minister at 9:30pm on Tuesday, once she returned from Brussels.
He had spoken to the prime minister to consult with her about the timing of the confidence vote and she had expressed a desire for it to happen as soon as possible, Brady said.
Speaking on the steps of No. 10 Downing Street, May said her removal would put Brexit at risk.
“A change of leadership in the Conservative Party now would put our country’s future at risk and create uncertainty when we can least afford it,” she said. “A new leader wouldn’t be in place by the 21 January legal deadline, so a leadership election risks handing control of the Brexit negotiations to opposition MPs in parliament. The new leader wouldn’t have time to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and get the legislation through parliament by 29 March, so one of their first acts would have to be extending or rescinding Article 50, delaying or even stopping Brexit when people want us to get on with it.”
She said that she would contest the vote “with everything I’ve got.”
May said that any attempt to replace her would not increase the party’s majority.
“A leadership election would not change the fundamentals of the negotiation, or the parliamentary arithmetic,” she said. “Weeks spent tearing ourselves apart will only create more division just as we should be standing together to serve our country.”
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